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There are worse places to feel under the weather than an English garden in this recent weather …

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A caravan called Doris

Wouldn’t this be the perfect place to write?

It’s a caravan called Doris, and it’s the star of a very popular garden at the Chelsea Flower Show this year, created by Jo Thompson, to celebrate the Caravan Club. Click on the picture to read the story.

I haven’t had the chance to go to Chelsea this time, much as I love it, and although it’s almost walking distance across the river. I’m missing it loads, because so many of the gardens look particularly fabulous this year. Lots of beautiful planting and topiary, which I love, and less razzamatazz, which I’m not so bothered by. The five year-old is desperate to go up in Dairmid Gavin’s scaffolding sculpture, which features a dining room, a vegetable garden in the sky and even a working shower. The views from it are incredible. All it’s missing, in the little one’s opinion, is a toy shop. Next time, Dairmid.

Jo’s garden – back to the caravan – is gorgeous, different, girly and intimate. As I watched an interview with her on BBC2, I suddenly thought how familiar she looked, and how even more familiar she sounded. It turns out we were at university together, studying Italian, ooh – about *that* long ago. Even more wonderful than her garden is to see how well things have worked out for her. She’s an award-winning garden designer (well, she would be, wouldn’t she?). If only we’d known then what we’d be doing now …

New discovery – the shoe box

Well, you live and learn.

On Tuesday, I visited Farnborough Hill in Hampshire. Not just any old school visit – not that they ever are just any old school visit, mind you. This was the school where my mother was head girl, fifty-one years ago (Hi, Mummy, if you’re reading this) and where one of my goddaughters is in year 10.

They suggested that I give four workshops and a talk. I suggested that if I gave four workshops and a talk, I would be muttering unintelligible drivel by the end of the day, as four workshops is a lot of workshops. However, they bravely decided to risk it and I agreed to give it a try.

Here we are at the beginning of the day, when I’d like to think I was sounding quite coherent. We are drinking hot chocolate and talking about books. YES!

Do I look as if my mother is watching me from just out of shot? She was. She came to visit with me. It was very lovely, but you can so tell she’s an ex-headgirl. Here I am pretending that I’ve forgotten that my ex-headgirl mother is RIGHT OVER THERE LISTENING TO EVERY WORD I SAY.

Anyway. After the hot chocolate my mother nipped off to London to do lots of fun stuff, and I got down to the workshops, which involved creating mood boards for various of our favourite characters, requiring lots of paper, scissors, old copies of magazines and Pritt. Also fun. Very fun actually. I can only hope the Year 7s and 8s enjoyed it half as much as I did.

But here’s the thing. I’d asked them to do some preparation before I came – thinking of which character they’d like to illustrate and pulling together some images that might represent their complicated, multi-layered personalities. I’d assumed they’d all bring magazine cuttings and postcards, but they didn’t. Lots of girls arrived with beautifully illustrated shoe boxes, or boxes of other sorts, and inside the boxes were objects they’d gathered from home to represent their chosen character. Bracelets and trinkets, spectacles and handcuffs, feathers and leaves …

My favourites were a padlock and some tea bags. Character? Dolores Umbridge. The tea bags were for her cups of tea and the padlock was for the Quidditch brooms. There were also printed out copies of some of her decrees. Quite wonderful.

As Carrie Bradshaw would say, it got me thinking. My mood board is a nightmare to cart around with me. It’s about a metre wide and nearly as deep. As soon as I try and move it, thinks start to fall off. And I can only attach things to it that are flat. A mood box, which is effectively what the girls had invented, is so much more practical: small and portable; just as good at containing useful, inspirational stuff; and it can hold objects as well as pictures.

I’m not sure how coherent I was by the end, but I was certainly inspired by the girls. That’s the thing about school visits: you go in to try and educate them (actually I don’t – I go in to try and remind them that reading and writing can be SO MUCH FUN) and they end up educating you.

Boxes. Who knew?